Welcome to Eater's column, Decanted, in which wine writer Talia Baiocchi guides us through the treacherous world of New York wine lists.
Betto, Jason Denton's new Williamsburg restaurant, seems to swear off the neighborhood aesthetic, trading stuffed pheasants and faded photos of someone else's grandmother for a stark minimalist appeal that might seem more at home in Chelsea.
Perhaps it's playing to the new, more moneyed Williamsburg? There's surely a new neighborhood emerging that, for now, seems contained on the northside near Kent where CVS and Duane Reade sit nearly side by side and Móle, the neo El Torito-esque chain, slings happy hour margaritas. On the other side of Bedford the hipsters roam, frequenting taco trucks and drinking absinthe at bars that are made to look like 19th-century French bathrooms. The two Williamsburgs might as well rebuild the Berlin wall between them.
This divide has new business owners, particularly those that have decamped from Manhattan, wondering which side to play to. As of yet, the old neighborhood plaid-clad guard still seems to dictate success: The Meatball Shop—a shoe-in in terms of both décor and irony—is packed, while just around the corner Betto patiently waits on its audience. Why Denton chose not to simply duplicate the Lower East Side 'inoteca in Williamsburg inspires curiosity. It would seem to be the better fit, especially when you consider how the restaurants differ in their approach to wine.
At the 'inos you can drink big or small and bank on making out with something on clearance. At Betto you can easily drink under $50, but the mark-ups—which are a tad high even for Manhattan—make you wonder where you are.
The selection itself is mostly well-chosen by wine director Jill Sasso, who has spent time at Terroir and on the distribution side. This is her first list and one she was asked to throw together in a very short period of time. It needs more. If they are willing to adjust the algorithm a bit they'll be able to offer better wines in the $30 to $50 range. Right now it's a price point that is full of high highs and borderline-commerical lows. Though the highs do outweigh, the list could be more progressive in value and selection with a few changes.
If Betto can get people in the door and drinking wine, Sasso and Denton have plans to expand the wine selection to offer an expanded list of high-end wines. Whether or not they succeed can tell us a lot about where Williamsburg is going. Here's hoping they do. A real place to drink wine would be a welcome addition to a neighborhood that continues to pledge its allegiance to cocktails and beer.
Bang For Your Buck
10 Argyros, Atlantis $32
One of a three entry-level wines made by Argyros as introductions to the many joys of Santorini's wines. The island's basket-trained, old-vine assytrtiko is a hellish thing to cultivate and the wines aren't cheap as a result. This is an excellent opportunity to dip into island's two main white varieties (assyrtiko and athiri) for pennies on the dollar.
10 Janvier, Jasnières $48
Pascal Janvier is one of the finest producers coming out of the tiny, oft-overlooked region of Jasnières. It lies north of Vouvray and its principle grape, chenin blanc, is the same. This is a perennial go to for early drinking, mineral-driven chenin blanc.
09 Venier, Cheverny Rouge $47
Venier is part of the Loire Valley's enclave of producers that work with minimal manipulation, no sulfur, no additives, no nothing. This a blend of pinot noir and gamay produced via carbonic maceration in cement and sees no wood. It's savory and mineral-driven with enough fruit to ensure wide appeal.
06 La Mondianese, Ruchè di Castagnole $41
Considered one of Piedmont’s lesser varieties (along with brachetto, pelaverga, etc.) behind the big three (nebbiolo, barbera, and dolcetto), ruchè can be an excellent go to for value—if you can find it. Intensely perfumed and lithe.
06 Produttori di Carema, Carema Classico $56
Great deal on nebbiolo from Carema—a growing region to the northwest of Barolo, near the Aosta Valley--that's drinking now. Less structured, and more delicate than what you'll find to the south, in the regions of Barolo and Barbaresco.
Off The Beaten Path
09 Carpineta Fontalpino, Montaperto IGT $51
An oddball blend of sangiovese, alicante and gamay out of Tuscany that acts as a sort of anti Super Tuscan, Super Tuscan. Gamay gives the wine an extra dose of acidity while alicante lends some spice and density. An unlikely crowd pleaser.
10 Valle dell’Acate, Frappato $47
Adult kool aid. Frappato is the go to crowd pleaser grape variety grown in and around Vittoria, in Sicily.This is done only in stainless and demands minimal thought. Slightly herbal, juicy and great with cured meat.
09 Domaine Guion, Bourgueil $38
great bistro-level Bourgueil that fits squarely into the cheap and cheerful category. Forward fruit, trademark Cab Franc aromatics with a touch of funk.
Break The Bank
Not much here over $100. If you intend to splurge head for the '96 Michel Gaunoux Pommard at $135
Though the average bottle price remains quite low, the mark-ups are too high for the neighborhood.